Talk about personal service.
Feeling like a strong herbal tea after a leisurely 7-course tasting menu at Killeavy Castle Estate in Armagh, Northern Ireland, our friendly server Emma Trainor ran to the property’s walled garden to handpick fresh catnip specially for us.
As for the dinner itself, chefs Darragh Dooley from Galway and Dario Percic from Croatia combined their culinary skills with local produce, much of it from the four-star property’s own garden, to produce a truly epicurean experience.
Starting with a first course of sable biscuit, cured salmon, fennel and apple gel served creatively on a seaweed and stone base accompanied by a kombucha, our dinner also featured a colorful salad with hawthorn flowers, gooseberry broth, columbine petals and 13 different herbs, oysters from nearby Carlingford Lough with citrus, long-stem broccoli and caviar crème fraiche, pan-fried fillet of cod and a roasted fillet of beef from long-horned cattle reared on the estate with a potato, pistachio and lamb terrine.
Intriguing elements of the menu include local drinks - a smoked turf and whiskey foam served in a glass on a strip of tree bark, the whiskey being from Killowen Distillery, five miles away, and traditional Kilnasaggart mead, a medium-sweet honey-wine, made at O'Hagan's Meadery in the nearby village of the same name. The seventh course, petit fours, is served in magical fashion, best seen than described here.
Not only was the food excellent and presentation superb, but we also enjoyed a choice setting, a corner table overlooking Slieve Gullion and gently rolling meadows stretching to the nearby Flagstaff Mountain, bucolic scenes aptly reflecting the hotel’s motto, ‘Get closer to what’s important.’
Nestled amidst 350 acres of woodland and farmland, Killeavy Castle Estate was built in 1836 but fell into disrepair until the Boyles, a family of civil engineers in Australia with family links locally, bought it 11 years ago. The Boyles launched a major restoration project costing an estimated 12 million pound sterling and opened the property for guests two years ago. A collection of framed photos in the lobby illustrate the various stages of the renovation. The name Killeavey means ‘church on the mountain’ and indeed there is such a stone-wall structure beside a pathway behind the property.
Three accommodation options are available for guests.
The castle itself features four bedrooms, plus a private bar and a banquet room catering to 220 people. Furnishings include four poster beds, a ‘secret’ circular turret library comprising the castle’s original bookcase dating from 1830, claw-foot bathtubs and cast iron fireplaces. There are 52 windows in the castle, one for every week of the year, offering various views over the surrounding countryside.
Just below the castle, along a short pebble pathway, is a modern 45-room hotel, converted from an old mill and coach house, with spa facilities, restaurant and bar. Our room, 310, overlooked the property’s walled garden where a variety of crops are grown, from berries to herbs, lettuce to apples. A cafe has been opened there with a pizzeria planned. Guests can also choose the gate-lodge for accommodation, a 3-bedroom self-catering cottage for up to six guests.
As the estate comprises so much woodland, including ancient oaks, guests are encouraged to enjoy the pleasant views along interlinking pathways with free special maps as guides. Alternatively, they can ride electric bikes.
After such exercise guests can relax in the spa’s outdoor hot tub, sauna or in its hydro and exercise pools.
“As a former personal coach, I’m deeply interested in wellness, its active as well as its passive aspects,” said Terry Kelly, sales and marketing manager. “With fresh local produce a key element of our food philosophy, together with our spa and outdoor walks, we proudly provide both.”
Killeavy Castle Estate also caters for business meetings and private functions, with a garden lounge for high teas; a rustic castle cellar bar for parties up to 80 people with finger food and entertainment; a marquee beside the castle for up to 220; and a castle dining room catering to sixteen.
Sustainability is a key factor at Killeavy Castle Estate, with plastic waste kept to a minimum, no take away coffee cups, no plastic straws, no one-off bathroom items and no plastic water bottles in rooms or restaurants. On-site cleaning products are also environmentally friendly. A re-afforestation program is also underway.
There are also several beehives on the estate with plans to expand to 20. Aside from 150 longhorn cattle and over 200 Cheviot sheep, there are also seven peacocks, which meander carefree around the grounds like lords of the manor.
Guests can also enjoy an historical tour of the estate; forage for edible wild produce with a trained team member; indulge in forest bathing and mindfulness experiences or embark on an excursion to Killowen Distillery, one of the smallest in Ireland, to learn how whiskey, gin and poitín, Ireland’s traditional Irish distilled drink, are made.